1946 Goethe Prize winner / SAT 10-31-15 / Gangsta rap characters / 1960s-80s Chevrolet coupe utility vehicle / Ways of sitting in yoga / Suddenly angrily stop playing game in modern lingo

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Constructor: Peter Wentz

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: MITZI Gaynor (50A: Gaynor with the one-woman show "Razzle Dazzle!") —
Mitzi Gaynor (born September 4, 1931) is an American actress, singer, and dancer. [...] Gaynor's one-woman show, Razzle Dazzle: My Life Behind the Sequins, toured the United States throughout 2009 and 2010 (including an acclaimed 2 week engagement in NYC); her tour resumed in 2011. (wikipedia)
• • •

I do love a Peter Wentz themeless grid. They are whisper quiet (almost no clunks or PLINKs) but also powerful and exciting.  There were pleasant surprises at every turn here: the EL CAMINO and THE KINKS and the ASANAS I should've been doing tonight instead of skipping out and drinking martinis. I feel no guilt, crossword, so shove it! I even mildly enjoyed remembering the defunct sad mall toy store KB TOYS (13D: Former chain store for kids). I had EB TOYS at first, which I think I got to via EB SPORTS ... only it's EA SPORTS ... and EB WHITE ... so I don't really know what happened there. There were some oddish phrasings, like SWARM INTO and SHOOTS IT, but I can deal with those. What's weird (and this may be the martini, who knows) is that when I look at this grid, I keep reparsing many of the answers. NOT RUMP! LAW OMAN! SHOOT SIT! R.E.M. AX! And, of course, GENE'S E.T. 

I had trouble getting started (typical on a Saturday) but then got going with SNUBS (26D: Academy omissions). That answer was transparent, but especially so, given that I had only seconds before glanced at this Tweet:

Coincidentally, I've made crosswords with both Chris Rock and Trevor Noah in the clues (never Seinfeld). Anyway, SNUBS led to ABS and ROOMS led to NOUN and RAGEQUIT led to IRAQ, and all of a sudden things were rolling. Then I ran into THUGS (40A: Gangsta rap characters). I had ---GS and I honestly said out loud "Oh ... don't be THUGS." But then HARIBO was like "Sorry, buddy, it's THUGS." And I just stared at the grid, wondering how the NYT can continue to not know that it has a race problem. And a glaring one, at that. Look, white people, please don't make me explain to you how it looks when a white-produced puzzle for a largely white middle/upper-middle-class audience not only barely acknowledges black people exist, but when it does, only does so via clues gleaned from a cursory (and often dated) understanding of rap and hip-hop. It's either HOMEYS or THUGS with this damned puzzle. And going to "gangsta rap" for a THUGS clue, however defensible from a strictly literal standpoint, is fucking terrible in the age of #BlackLivesMatter, when so many jackass racist white people are wielding "thug" like a racial epithet. I mean, the controversy over white people's use of "THUGS" has been all over the news. Just read. Just watch. This issue is everywhere. White people should leave "thug" the hell alone. It's loaded. We loaded it. I don't care if it actually does appear in rap music or on Tupac's torso or wherever. In the context of a white-produced puzzle for mostly white people, please, dear god, clue THUGS in some way where Race Is Not A Factor. It is, sincerely, the very least you could do.

I really did like this puzzle, though. That one answer notwithstanding.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Mata Hari portrayer of 1931 / FRI 10-30-15 / Lewis presidential also-ran 1848 / Halloween antagonist's surname / Deluded prospector's find / Excellent in 1990s slang / Joe Buck's pal in 1969 film / Theme song of Doris Day show

Friday, October 30, 2015

Constructor: Patrick Berry

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Lewis CASS (25D: Lewis ___, presidential also-ran of 1848) —
Lewis Cass (October 9, 1782 – June 17, 1866) was an American military officer and politician. During his long political career, Cass served as a governor of the Michigan Territory, an American ambassador, a U.S. Senator representing Michigan, and co-founder as well as first Masonic Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Michigan. He was the losing nominee of the Democratic Party for president in 1848. Cass was nationally famous as a leading spokesman for the controversial Doctrine of Popular Sovereignty, which would have allowed voters in the territories to determine whether to make slavery legal instead of having Congress decide.
• • •

This was somewhat less interesting and far, far more dated in its frame of reference than I'm used to seeing from Patrick Berry's puzzles. Peewee REESE, Doris Day, TIPPI Hedren, GRETA GARBO, Harold ARLEN, "Beau Geste," RENÉ Lacoste, and on and on. We get up to about 20 years ago, once, with PHAT. But when "Halloween" (1978) and "FAME" (1980) are your modern clues, your puzzle is old. Those last two were in my wheelhouse, but that's the point: I Am A Solidly Middle-Aged Man. When I say your puzzle is old, it's old. Again, with the caveat that old is fine if it's balanced out. But this one wasn't. Not even close. NYT is basically going hard after an established older (boomer+) audience. Safe. Doomed, ultimately, but certainly safe for the time being. And Patrick Berry is a god, so the grid is clean and even lovely in places. RASPBERRY / STUPEFIED / SPIT TAKE is my favorite stack in recent memory. But this one doesn't even try to come into the 21st century. And yet it's pop culturey as hell—it's just old pop culture that's on display. So remember, when you (you know who you are) complain about "pop culture" in modern crosswords, you're really complaining about the recent stuff you don't know. You're fine with it if it's from your childhood / teen years / early adulthood. This is to say that the pop-haters won't complain about this one's being pop-laden, even though it clearly is. We like the pop we know and love and denigrate the pop we don't. My only problem with this puzzle is that it is (overwhelmingly) lily white and old as hell. The grid is, of course, exceedingly well made.

I got through the grid pretty easily until I got to the NE, where things froze up. Right about here:

As you can see, I know *&%^-all about "Beau Geste" and have no idea how [Stacked beds] could be STRATA. I can't visualize that. I have no idea what is being referred to there. STRATA are just layers. WTF is a "stacked bed." Is that a gardening thing? [beds of rock, people are saying ... bedrock. I have no choice but to believe them]. Also couldn't yet see IRON PYRITE (though looking at the grid now, it seems obvious) or TETE-A-TETES. I wrote in SAFARI at one point for SAHARA (30D: Setting of "Beau Geste"). It got ugly enough that I tore out MOLTO and ALL THE ... I think I got STARTER eventually, and things loosened up from there.

  • 17A: Minor additions to the bill? (B PICTURES) — Yuck. B MOVIES or go home.
  • 25D: Lewis ___, presidential also-ran of 1848 (CASS) — Because Mama CASS would've been too current.
  • 36A: Twelver, religiously speaking (SHIITE) — Embarrassed to say I had No idea what "Twelver" meant. "The term Twelver refers to its adherents' belief in twelve divinely ordained leaders, known as the Twelve Imams, and their belief that the last Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, lives in occultation and will reappear as the promised Mahdi" (wikpedia).
  • 16A: "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive" songwriter (ARLEN) — I thought sure it was Mercer. I know I have that song on a Mercer compilation ... [looks it up] ... ah, he was the lyricist. ARLEN, writer, Mercer, lyricist. 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Director Besson / THU 10-29-15 / Addie's husband in As I Lay Dying / 1881 novel for children those who love children / Las Vegas casino opened in 2009 / Partner to Kenan in 1990s Nickelodeon sitcom

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Constructor: Sam Trabucco

Relative difficulty: No idea (solved while watching World Series / GOP debate)

THEME: LION'S SHARE (66A: Almost all ... and a hint to the five circled letters)— theme answers are two-word answers where first word ends and second word begins with same letter. Those repeating letters appear in one square together, i.e. they share a square. The shared squares spell out, sequentially, LIONS. Thus (I think) LIONS share squares (?). [Apparently, EVEN THOUGH THE SOFTWARE ACCEPTED THE ABOVE GRID AS CORRECT, you are not supposed to put a double-letter in the circled squares ... rather, the single letter (that is supposed to go there) is "shared" by first and second words.] [frowny face]

Theme answers:
  • SOCIAL LIFE (17A: Partygoing and such)
  • SKI INSTRUCTOR (24A: One whose work is going downhill?) (at this point, I thought the two "I"s in the single square represented skis and I was excited to have the circles represent someone skiing down a mountain ...)
  • DO OVER (41A: Second chance)
  • CHICKEN NOODLE (53A: Campbell's variety)
Word of the Day: Friedrich EBERT (Friedrich ___, first president of the German Republic) —
Friedrich Ebert (4 February 1871 – 28 February 1925) was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the first President of Germany from 1919 until his death in office in 1925. // Ebert was elected leader of the SPD on the death of August Bebel, and the SPD later became deeply divided because Ebert led it to support war loans for World War I. A moderate social democrat, Ebert was in favour of the Burgfrieden, in which domestic political squabbles were put aside and all forces in society were expected to support the war effort. He tried to isolate those in the party opposed to the war but could not prevent a split. // Ebert was a pivotal figure in the German Revolution of 1918-19. When Germany became a republic, he was its first chancellor. His policies at this time were primarily aimed at restoring peace and order and at containing the more extreme elements of the revolutionary left. For this he allied himself with conservative and nationalistic political forces, in particular with the leadership of the military under General Wilhelm Groener and the right wing Freikorps. With their help, Ebert's government crushed a number of leftist uprisings that were pursuing goals that were similar to those of the SPD. This has made him a controversial historical figure.
• • •

This puzzle took me forever, but that's because I kept getting distracted by things on my TV screen, and by the people I was chatting with online *about* the things happening on my TV screen. There is a reason that, as a rule, I solve in a state of Total non-distraction (no music, no TV ... no sounds of family shuffling around the house, even—can't deal. "Everyone sit still for five to ten minutes, dammit!"). But tonight there was just too much going on, so I solved the puzzle in fits and starts, toggling back whenever there was a lull in the action. I don't think I fully get or appreciate the theme. I see that the two (?) LIONS in the circled squares. I wonder why the letters are just single letters in the Downs. Seems like you could've made a grid to make the double-letter thing happen in both directions. But maybe there's some Meaning I can't see (beyond two letters simply "sharing" one square, and those squares spelling out LIONS).

Long Downs are good. Overall fill just OK. ANSE, however, is revolting (72A: Addie's husband in "As I Lay Dying"). Just ... godawful. I can't say enough bad things about ANSE. One notch above ASE'S (yes, that is a thing you sometimes see in crosswords a surprising amount). I think I was reasonably satisfied with the fill until that moment (ANSE crossing NEE), at which point I think I shouted "Nooooo..." dramatically, like in the movies. I found the whole N/NW section very hard. [Call at night] for HOOT, ["You got me"] for OUCH, [Come down hard] for POUR, the adjacent cross-referenced answers at 5D and 6D ... all this made things rough up there for me. [Partygoing and such] sounds way more ... specific than just SOCIAL LIFE, so I had -IAL LIFE and still had no idea. Seemed like JOVIAL LIFE from the clue, but JOVIAL LIFE is not a thing. Then there's the EBERT clue, ugh. WTF? Better (much better, a thousand times better) a funny / clever / tough Roger EBERT clue than this century-old snoozefest of a trivia question. PUZZLES SHOULD BE FUN. Make it so.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS this is Sam Trabucco's NYT debut, but he had a BuzzFeed puzzle a couple weeks back. Get it here.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Onetime MTV reality stunt show / WED 10-28-15 / 1950s mideast hotspot / Big name in 1980s jeans / Ouzo flavoring / Confident counterclaim / Political group unlikely to be swayed

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Constructor: Jay Kaskel and Daniel Kantor

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (*for a Wednesday*) (not sure why, but my time was sky-high)

THEME: FOOD COURT (34A: Legal setting for 17-, 25-, 45- and 53-Across?) — food products clued as if they were involved in court cases (thus playing on the first, descriptive word in the food's name):

Theme answers:
  • CANNED CORN (17A: 34-Across case involving ... wrongful termination?)
  • SPLIT PEAS (25A: ... divorce proceedings?)
  • DIRTY RICE (45A: ... political corruption?)
  • BAKED BEANS (53A:  ... marijuana possession?)
Word of the Day: "JACKASS" (1D: Onetime MTV reality stunt show) —
Jackass is an American reality series, originally shown on MTV from 2000 to 2002,[2] featuring people performing various dangerous, crude, self-injuring stunts and pranks. The show served as a launchpad for the television and acting careers of Bam Margera, Steve-O, and Johnny Knoxville, who previously had only minor acting roles. // Since 2001, three Jackass films have been produced and released by MTV corporate sibling Paramount Pictures, continuing the franchise after its run on television. The show sparked several spin-offs including Viva La Bam, Wildboyz, Homewrecker, Dr. Steve-O, Nitro Circus and Blastazoid. (wikipedia)
• • •

Cute idea, but the themers are inconsistent, arbitrary, and kind of dull. Foods really seem forced, conscripted, into the theme. The idea of a (literal) FOOD COURT is amusing, but there has to be a way to make this tighter / more amusing. Getting canned or split is not a crime, but being dirty or getting baked is (though ... do people go to court for simple possession still? Also, simple "possession" does not get you BAKED ... or so I understand). Lots of things are CANNED—CANNED CORN doesn't feel special or tight. Feels like it was just a "canned" answer that fit.  Also, DIRTY RICE is a whole dish, where the others are just single food items. Fill-wise, it's rough in many places, though you do get some occasionally interesting things in those giant, weirdly sequestered corners in the NW and SE.

I took a screenshot part way through when I got weirdly stuck. Looking back, it seems impossible that I couldn't instantly get SPLIT PEAS from this ...

... but my mind was racing to try to find types of peas. Like SWEET. Split is a form of processing. Brain just wasn't tilting that way. This brings up another inconsistency: no one eats SPLIT PEAS. As soup, sure, but just on their own? No. You could eat the others as they appear in the grid. But nobody eats just SPLIT PEAS. Google [split pea...] and all the suggestions are for soup. For A Reason.

  • 32D: Unidentified hostile aircraft (BOGEYS) — had trouble with the plural part, but not with the answer in general. This is because I just watched "Top Gun" (on Saturday night). BOGEYS everywhere. Also oiled man-bods. Venetian blinds. And fans. Ceiling fans. Metal-cage desk fans. Just ... blowing. Lots of blowing.
  • 47A: North Dakota city (MINOT)— fourth-largest city in the state! Which puts it under 50K. Not sure how I semi-remembered this. But I semi-did. Not great fill. I mean, beats ENERO and OUSE, but not by a ton.
  • 9D: Stop for water (DAM) — clues like this one (a good one) are why this puzzle played a little hard for me. This is a tough, hard-to-read clue. It's got that whole "what does 'stop' mean?" thing going on. I was trying to decided if it was a verb or noun, but I was imagining a totally different form of noun (like an oasis). Tricky. 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. I made today's Buzzfeed crossword (a themeless). You can get it here. I would love it if you solved it. Thanks.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Vampire's bane / TUE 10-27-15 / Spider's hatching pouch / Hurrays for matadors

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Constructor: Kurt Mueller

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Vampire's banes... — bunch of stuff that kills vampires

Theme answers:
  • STAKE (through the) HEART 
Word of the Day: Sônia BRAGA (33D: Sonia of "Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands") —
Sônia Maria Campos Braga (born 8 June 1950) is a Brazilian actress. Nominated for three Golden Globes and an Emmy Award, Braga is best known in the English-speaking world for her performances in Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Moon Over Parador. Her television credits include Sex and the City, Alias, American Family and The Cosby Show. (wikipedia)
• • •
This puzzle has one nice element—the STAKE through the HEART. It's also an anomalous element. The other themers are a rather contrived assortment, with adjectives and other words added to make the answers symmetrical. For instance, what other bible would it be besides "The holy" one? And I think crucifixes are much more common banes, actually. GARLIC is the bane, and the necklace is just one form in which people can wear it to protect *themselves*. It's more repellent than bane. And SILVER BULLET? No one associates that w/ vampires. That's werewolves all the way. I'm sure some list somewhere says "sure, those kill vampires too," but if you say "SILVER BULLET" the only thing people are going to think is "werewolves." Or Coors Light. Or Bob Seger. Or maybe Vampire Bob Seger. But not plain-old vampires.

So there's one clever bit, dead center (stake thru heart is also the primo A1 way to kill a vampire), and then there's ... the rest. And again, too much gucky fill. TO ALL ALII, A LIE, A DAB! U AR an EGGSAC AGER. I might've had some love for KGBSPY, but I just saw it. Where did I see it? I forget? Was it NYT? I do too many puzzles. Anyway, that's a decent answer. How do you not go with "Kiss of the Spider Woman" for the Sônia BRAGA clue in a monster-themed puzzle? Seems like a missed opportunity to creep things up. This grid is super-choppy. Lots of black squares, lots of short fill. This leads to very little interest outside the themers, though DIEHARD, BLOSSOM, and CHEERIO have a certain bounce. Lately we've been getting dusty fill and loose or low-bar themes. The cluing here is also super-straightforward. Boring. Hoping mid-/late-week puzzles pick it up some.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Lenin's successor / MON 10-26-15 / Kid long-running 1950s western / Home with entrance flap / Furry creature from Endor / Dries up and shrinks with age

Monday, October 26, 2015

Constructor: Bruce Haight

Relative difficulty: Easy (2:42, and this thing is 16-wide...)

THEME: SAN FRANCISCO (67A: So-called "Paris of the West") — stuff in or associated with S.F.

Theme answers:
  • CITY BY THE BAY (18A: Nickname of 67-Across)
  • ALCATRAZ (26A: Island near 67-Across)
  • GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE (42A: 67-Across landmark)
  • CABLE CAR  (52A: Conveyance in 67-Across)
Word of the Day: KEAN University (32D: University in Union, N.J.) —
Kean University /ˈkn/ is a coeducational, public university located in Union and Hillside, New Jersey, United States. Kean University serves its students in the liberal arts, the sciences, and the professions and is best known for its programs in the humanities and social sciences and in education, graduating the most teachers in the state of New Jersey annually. Kean is also noted for the physical therapy program which it holds in conjunction with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. (wikipedia)
• • •

Another day, another puzzle about which I have nothing substantive to say. I have never liked this constructor's puzzles, so I was braced for wincing, but the wincing actually didn't come. The fill is ordinary, old-fashioned, but nothing here made me go "Oh god no." I consider this progress. The theme, however ... it jaw-droppingly remedial. Basic. This isn't a theme. It's certainly not a theme worthy of "the best puzzle in the world." It's a "$100,000 Pyramid" category, at best. Stuff in S.F. ... that's it!? This is placemat crossword fodder. Like, I would eat crab near Fisherman's Wharf and solve this puzzle on a little paper placemat. There is nothing to it. It's a remedial trivia crossword. The crossword has been self-consciously musty of late. Defiantly fuddy-duddy. Most people are going to solve this and find it unremarkable and forget it. But it's shocking, honestly, that a concept this unimaginative made the grade. Again, hurray for fill that isn't like a groin-kick, but theme-wise ... I'm aghast and agape and all the other a-words except Appreciative. The best part about this puzzle was that I torched it. Filled in most of the themers w/o even looking at the clues. 2:42 is a very good time for me on a normal 15x15. For a 15x16, it's unreal. I am The Flash. For a Day.

  • 4D: Excite (KEY UP) — just pointing out the UP dupe at ASK UP. I think dupes are more obvious and irksome when they show up in the same phrase position in their answers.
  • 44D: "Toughen up!" ("BE A MAN!") — this clue really should have some additional bit, like "... to a bullying sexist asshole."
  • 23A: On its way (SENT) — my MacBook Air does this weird thing sometimes where, when I disconnect from speakers ... it seems to have stored up a bunch of alert sounds, and then unleashes them all at once, in quick succession. Mostly SENT e-mail whooshes. It's disconcerting.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Ancient Hebrew liquid measure / SUN 10-25-15 / Cribbage one-pointers / Eponym of hot dog chain / Turbaned sort / Stimpy's TV pal / Like some Roman aphorisms / Gamer's prefix with pets / Petty braggart / Party straggler / Actress Kedrova / Common sitcom rating / Noted remover of locks

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Constructor: Bill Zais

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Halloween Costumes" — words are added to beginnings of famous people's names to create spooky names, or, I guess, theoretically costumed famous people, though who would go trick-or-treating as "EYE OF NEWT," I have no idea...

Theme answers:
  • WEREWOLF BLITZER (23A: Halloween costume for ... a CNN anchor?)
  • TOMBSTONE PHILLIPS (39A: ... a former "Dateline" host?)
  • EYE OF NEWT GINGRICH (58A: ... a onetime House speaker?)
  • GRAVEDIGGER PHELPS (85A: ... an old Notre Dame basketball coach?)
  • GHOSTBUSTER KEATON (104A: ... a silent film star?) (No—is he dressed up as a "ghost"? Or a Ghostbuster? By logic of the puzzle, the latter, but that is absurdly out of step with the rest of the more generic, decidedly non-corporate "costumes" in this puzzle...)
  • BLACK CAT STEVENS (122A: ... a pop/folk singer with numerous 1970s hits?) 
Word of the Day: GUCK (87D: Slimy stuff) —
 North American informal
noun: guck
  1. a slimy, dirty, or otherwise unpleasant substance.

    "he got mud and cow guck all over his white jersey"
• • •

Honestly, I'd rather go watch "Top Gun" then write about this puzzle (much much rather...), so that's what I'm going to do. Or, rather, I'm going to be brief here. This is an Old Idea. Simple. QUAINT. Shrug. It's 6 days early ... I think it would've been better as a day-after-Halloween puzzle than a 6-days-before-Halloween puzzle, but honestly, I wouldn't have liked it then, either. The concept is tired, the fill is terrible. Really. I doubled over and winced at ORECAR, and that was before I'd even seen TID or SEEPY (the worst dwarf), and all of that was before I Ever Got Out Of The NW. OY(S)! NOBS! Lots of IFFY fill, for sure (7D: Doubtful). What the heck is up with that POOH clue?! (73A: "Tush!"). "Tush!"? Do you shout that when you see someone with a nice ass? I hope not. That would be rude. I kept interrupting my solve to gripe about it, so I have no idea how long this would've taken me under normal, unbroken solving circumstances, but I never struggled much at all, and the themers were all super duper easy, so ... Easy. OOMPAH, TRALA, I'm done. Perhaps you have some deep insights into the mysterious nuances of this puzzle. Not me. I'm out. Me and my PITMEN are gonna take the ORECAR downstairs to "Top Gun" land. Danger zone! I've only been drinking a little.

Good night/day. Boo!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS, just noticed (just now, for first time) HIN (119A: Ancient Hebrew liquid measure) ... wow. Really? Unreal. That is ... wow. How ...? OK, yeah, I'm done.

PPS, you might enjoy this lovely article by Lesléa Newman, a reflection on how crosswords connect her to her mother, who recently died. Check it out: "Always a Crossword between Us"

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Pseudonym of Freud's famed hysteria patient / SAT 10-24-15 / Lead-in to exalted leader's name / Faxon who won 2011 screenwriting Oscar / Fancier of melliferous plants / Jacques French psychoanalyst who studied hysteria

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Constructor: Andrew Zhou

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Jacques LACAN (31D: Jacques ___, French psychoanalyst who studied hysteria) —
acques Marie Émile Lacan (/ləˈkɑːn/; French: [ʒak lakɑ̃]; 13 April 1901 – 9 September 1981), known simply as Jacques Lacan, was a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who has been called "the most controversial psycho-analyst since Freud". Giving yearly seminars in Paris from 1953 to 1981, Lacan influenced many leading French intellectuals in the 1960s and the 1970s, especially those associated with post-structuralism. His ideas had a significant impact on post-structuralism, critical theory, linguistics, 20th-century French philosophy, film theory and clinical psychoanalysis. (wikipedia)
• • •
This is pretty sweet. Didn't have high hopes, coming out of that NW corner, but the puzzle smooths out considerably in the middle. It's only in the nooks and crannies that it gets dicey—in the big white swaths toward the center, it's positively creamy. I realized today that there is some fill that is legit, but that I just don't like. Personal aversion. EOCENE is one. Feels like cheating. I mean, it's basically just all vowels, so of course constructors lean on it way more heavily than all the other epochs (of which I don't think I can name any—"Pleistocene?" Is that an epoch?). Also, AIRACE(S). I just ... don't think anyone really wants that answer. It just fits, so ... OK. but it's an answer to tolerate, at best. I can tolerate 3-, 4-, 5-letter stuff. When answers get longer, I have trouble accepting "tolerable" as the benchmark. So I balk. Or shy. Is that what a horse does? I rear up on my hind legs in alarm, is what I'm saying. I am less ambivalent about not liking answers like AGEONE and THEBEARS. Those (terrible) answers set ridiculous precedents, namely for AGE [any number] and THE [any mascot]. I sit around sometimes in the late morning and wait for THE MAIL, but ... no.

But that stagger-stack in the center there is good, as are the longer Downs that cut through it. Things didn't start out so promising, though. Got NIQAB (1A: Cover for a Muslim woman's face) immediately (NIQAB is the new COWTIPPING) (see yesterday's puzzle if that makes no sense to you), and filled that corner in pretty quickly, but ended up with ENURE / STOKE/ NESCES (which I assumed was Spanish for "nieces") (no, I'm not kidding) (1D: Two of Ferdinand VII's wives, to Ferdinand VII). But that left me with INTIVO for 2D: How many experiments are done. I found IN TIVO an intriguing answer for that clue, but ... some small, sane part of my brain said "No. Do not let that stand." Main problem here was STOKE. It looked so right. But no. EVOKE (17A: Stir up). So I stumbled out of there and managed to cross the great white divide into the bottom of the grid, such that I ended up here:

That SE corner was ridiculously easy compared to the rest of the grid. I totally lucked into an answer that broke open the center. No one who went to grad school in the Humanities (esp. in the '90s) could get out of there without hearing the name Jacques LACAN bandied about by people who wanted you to believe they knew what they were talking about. Ubiquitous, that guy. So LACAN was a fat gimme. And then LATIN LOVERS went down and the puzzle loosened up from there. My favorite part of the solve was getting to this point:

... then looking at 34A (--CKME--GN-), then just making up answers that seemed to fit, then saying something very profane ... then realizing that if I just changed the first two letters of my guess, I'd be right: KICK ME SIGNS (34A: Things some people need to get off their backs). Sometimes, just shouting out stuff that seems to fit the letter pattern actually works.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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McDreamy's first name on Grey's Anatomy / FRI 10-23-15 / Singer with 4x platinum album No Angel / Scientific discovery of 1869 / One named singer who was a muse for Andy Warhol / Acronym in casual dining / Rural activity in urban legend

Friday, October 23, 2015

Constructor: Evan Birnholz

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: Jonathan PRYCE (7D: Actor Jonathan, whose name sounds like it's worth something) —
Jonathan Pryce, CBE (born John Price; 1 June 1947) is a Welsh actor and singer. After studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and meeting his longtime girlfriend, English actress Kate Fahy, in 1974, he began his career as a stage actor in the 1970s. His work in theatre, including an award-winning performance in the title role of the Royal Court Theatre's Hamlet, led to several supporting roles in film and television. He made his breakthrough screen performance in Terry Gilliam's 1985 cult film Brazil. // Critically lauded for his versatility, Pryce has participated in big-budget films including Evita, Tomorrow Never Dies, Pirates of the Caribbean, The New World, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, GI Joe: Retaliation as well as independent films including Glengarry Glen Ross and Carrington. His career in theatre has also been prolific, and he has won two Tony Awards—the first in 1977 for his Broadway debut in Comedians, the second for his 1991 role as The Engineer in the musical Miss Saigon. (wikipedia)
• • •

I got COWTIPPING straight away (1A: Rural activity in an urban legend), but none of those first three Downs was clear to me—in fact, of that first stretch of Downs, only TNT, INFO, and NEO were obvious to me from their first letters, so I did not come blazing out of that corner as I thought / hoped I would. Still, after some knocking about with OPART and ROLOS and the gang in the west, I came back up to that NW corner and took care of it without too much trouble. Rest of the puzzle was a lark, a romp, a walk in the park. It's pretty sports-heavy, so you will either like that or you will not like that. I mostly like it, though honestly I don't really know what an AMEN CORNER is, despite having seen it in puzzles many times. I feel like the first time I saw it, it had something to do with golf?? Can that be right? What am I thinking of? Yeah, it refers to a section of the course at Augusta. But that has nothing to do with "vocal supporters," does it? Oh ... I see it has a church meaning too:
a. A place in a church reserved for persons leading congregational responses.
b. A group of ardent worshipers in a church.
2. Informal A group of uncritical supporters of a leader, party, or policy, especially a controversial one.
I saw "vocal supporters" and thought "sports." The phrase clearly means little to me—just a phrase that's semi-familiar to me from multiple crosswords. Another word that means little to me: PELS. I got it easily, in that I know the New Orleans basketballers are called the "Pelicans," but ... a. I've not heard them referred to that way (perhaps this is because they just don't get as much coverage as many of the other NBA teams, despite having the best player in the NBA not named "LeBron"), and b. even if I had heard them referred to as PELS, no amount of arguing could ever convince me PELS is good fill. The more you look at it, the more it looks like a typo. 

PELS brings me to the editorial choices that were made with this puzzle. See, this grid was changed in multiple places after its initial submission. I wrote to Evan asking him "Dude, what is up with that BACK dupe?—that is glaring, and you always complain about that stuff in other people's puzzles." His reply was (and I'm paraphrasing), "Dude, that was not my decision." Then he showed me his original grid (yellow squares mark places the editors changed):

Now some of these changes seem reasonable. Craig EHLO's name is known only to fairly hardcore sports fans, I would think, so I have no problem ditching him. The problem is the BACK dupe. It's glaring. You've got STEP BACK in the grid, and you opt for I'M BACK at 11D???! Little dupes, nobody really cares, but two longish colloquial phrases that both end in "BACK"? I don't know if that's carelessness or bad judgment, but it's something. SNOT is pretty ugly, but then so is the "fix" (INOT). Keyser SÖZE is pretty old pop culture now, but I would've left that SW corner intact anyway. The changes are Not an improvement. LA RAMS, worse, and ALAW, much much much worse. Changing ENT to END (19A) ... I mean, sure, OK, I guess, but most of these changes are lateral moves at best. Why meddle if you can't clearly improve? And that "BACK" thing ... that just grates. Still, overall, this was enjoyable. Many SWEET SPOTS. Bouncy like a DANCE CRAZE. Check out Evan's independent puzzle site, "Devil Cross," for more of his (consistently good, frequently great) crossword puzzles (published weekly).

Three last things: 
  1. Don't McDonald's FRIES come in different sizes, and if so, how is 37A: McDonald's order with about 340 calories valid?  
  2. I do not consider making goo-goo eyes at and ogling to be the same thing (13D: Make goo-goo eyes at = OGLE). Not even close. The one is a dopey expression of besottedness, the other is a leering, wolfish, objectifying, occasionally dehumanizing or even menacing expression of sexual desire. Making goo-goo eyes can be reciprocal; ogling never is.
  3. I thought the [Actor Jonathan, whose name sounds like it's worth something] was Jonathan PENNY.  Then, later, Jonathan PENCE.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Gas giant since 1966 / THU 10-22-15 / Phishing targets / Mint family plant harvested for its seeds / Japanese dish whose name means literally eel bowl / Like terms mailman comedienne say / Place for pre-20th century medicines / Tart English jelly fruit / Dark horse bring to light

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Constructor: Tracy Gray

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: POTHOLES (60A: Road hazards ... four of which are illustrated literally in this puzzle) — phrases with the letter string "CAR" in them have the "A" part disappear inside a black square, signifying, presumably, the idea of a "CAR" hitting a pothole [nope ... looks like the "A" is underneath the black square...? Adds to the pothole effect that way...]

Theme answers:
  • OSCAR NOD (14A: Recognition from the Academy)
  • CREME CARAMEL (22A: Flan)
  • APOTHECARY SHOP (36A: Place for pre-20th century medicines)
  • DALE CARNEGIE (46A: "How to Win Friends and Influence People" writer)
Word of the Day: UNADON (16A: Japanese dish whose name means, literally, "eel bowl") —
Unadon (鰻丼?, an abbreviation for unagi + donburi, literally "eel bowl") is a dish originating in Japan. It consists of a donburi type large bowl filled with steamed white rice, and topped with fillets of eel (unagi) grilled in a style known as kabayaki, similar to teriyaki. The fillets are glazed with a sweetened soy-based sauce, called tare and caramelized, preferably over charcoal fire. The fillets are not flayed, and the grayish skin side is placed faced down. Sufficient tare sauce is poured over so that some of it seeps through the rice underneath. By convention, pulverized dried berries of sanshō (called Japanese pepper, although botanically unrelated) are sprinkled on top as seasoning. (wikipedia)
• • •

Theme was simultaneously very easy and very hard to get. That is to say, I got the disappearing "A" part almost immediately, before ever leaving that little NW corner, but I got the whole *concept* of the puzzle ... well, never. Even after reading the POTHOLES clues, I couldn't figure out why the POTHOLES were all "A"s. Black "A"s ... I don't get it. So I had to check with a friend. This is what (sometimes) happens when I solve early in the morning. Part of my brain just shuts down or hasn't warmed up sufficiently or ... something. So my experience solving this puzzle was not terribly joyful. I've seen words jump black squares and disappear inside black squares before (which is why I cracked the thing very quickly), and just having "A"s disappear didn't seem very interesting, and then the rest of the puzzle was very stale / ordinary / rough / workmanlike. Lots of wincing (from the old crosswordy-ness of TOTIE-upon-SNELL, to the SLOE OTOE crossing the ridiculous NOT (and somehow not NON-, which would also be bad) PC, to the kids in ETONS taking their PSATs, to ... well, everywhere. There's not an answer in the grid (outside the themers) that is inherently interesting or is clued in an interesting way. Kind of a chore to fill out. Once I realized, however, that the POTHOLES weren't just "A"s but were, in fact, "CAR"s that had gone over / through black-square POTHOLES, my appreciation for the concept jumped considerably (even though technically your car does not *disappear* inside a pothole ... this approximation of the experience seems fine). Still, the rest of the grid, yeesh.

Some hesitation in that NW corner because I don't think of LOL as meaning [I crack myself up], though I guess it can. I thought it represented ... just ... laughter, or was minimally a conventional way of indicating to others that something funny had occurred (not that I, myself, had said something funny). Also, the term described in 1D: "Kitsch" or "kindergarten," from German is "LOANword." LOAN on its own seemed weird. If you look up "Kitsch," as I just did, many definitions in fact begin "LOANword from German." LOAN is close enough, probably, but it's awkward, technically.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Antipiracy org. / WED 10-21-15 / Maxim by Publilius Syrus / Cipher creator's need / Between periods equipment / 10-year-old Oscar winner for Paper Moon

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Constructor: Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (just 'cause quotes are kind of hard to suss out)

THEME: quote / word ladder 

Theme answers:
  • "LET A FOOL / HOLD HIS TONGUE / AND HE WILL PASS / FOR A SAGE" (17A: ... a maxim by Publilius Syrus, hinted at by the series of circled letters)
Word ladder:
Word of the Day: Publilius Syrus
Publilius Syrus (fl. 85–43 BC[1]), was a Latin writer of sententiae. He was a Syrian who was brought as a slave to Italy, but by his wit and talent he won the favour of his master, who freed and educated him. Publilius' name, due to early medieval palatalization of 'l' between two 'i's, is often presented by manuscripts (and some printed editions) in corrupt form as 'Publius'. // His mimes, in which he acted himself, had a great success in the provincial towns of Italy and at the games given by Caesar in 46 BC. Publilius was perhaps even more famous as an improviser, and received from Caesar himself the prize in a contest in which he vanquished all his competitors, including the celebrated Decimus Laberius. // All that remains of his corpus is a collection of Sententiae, a series of moral maxims in iambic and trochaic verse. This collection must have been made at a very early date, since it was known to Aulus Gellius in the 2nd century AD. Each maxim consists of a single verse, and the verses are arranged in alphabetical order according to their initial letters. In the course of time the collection was interpolated with sentences drawn from other writers, especially from apocryphal writings of Seneca the Younger; the number of genuine verses is about 700. They include many pithy sayings, such as the famous "iudex damnatur ubi nocens absolvitur" ("The judge is condemned when the guilty is acquitted") adopted as its motto by the Edinburgh Review. (wikipedia)
• • •

It's two, two, two Old Ideas in one. I have to say right off the bat that I don't care for word ladders, and (unless they are brilliant / unexpected / genuinely funny) I really really really don't care for quote puzzles. No idea who Publilius Syrus is (I just typo'd "Publilius" like five times). Did he do anything besides say this? Anyway, the quote is kind of tired, and the fill in this thing is adequate and (largely) stale, though SEX SELLS (40D: Advertising truism) and ZAMBONI (29D: Between-periods equipment) are decent. But ADREM? EWW. And ADIN and OOP and OHOH etc. It's pretty rough. And, again, tiring. A walk in the park, but not a terribly nice park. A kind of run-down park. Here's what I remember about this grid (and I *just* solved it): "Ugh, quote puzzle." "Circles? ... I guess I'll just figure out what those do later." "ZAMBONI! Cool." "TOW BAR ... and ... no ... no ... hmm ... OK, it's SKI TOW (?) (8D: Winter lift) ... moving on." And finally "RIAA!?!?! (51D: Antipiracy org.) ... Wow, that is not an abbreviation I am ever likely to remember. For the first time in my life, I can honestly say 'I'm really glad I know who TIA Carrere is'" (58A: Carrere of "Wayne's World"). And that was that. Oh, wait, sorry. I left out one other happy moment: seeing Art Spiegelman's "MAUS" (26D: First graphic novel to win a Pulitzer (1992)). If this puzzle leads even one person to seek out and read "MAUS," it will have been worth it. Phenomenal stuff. "In the Shadow of No Towers," also great. And for a career retrospective, I recommend "Co-Mix." Spiegelman attended the university where I teach, which is completely coincidental to my fandom, but a fact nonetheless.

I was too early for the whole (sad) SAT PREP phenomenon (46D: Extracurricular study for many a high school jr.), so that section of the grid was toughest for me. I'm sure SAT PREP existed, in some form, in the late '80s, but my SAT PREP was me and a book (made of paper!) of old tests. And I went through the whole book over the course of, I don't know, several months, probably. And then I took the actual test. Once. In the spring of 1986. And that was that. Raised my score a ton (from the PSAT), which is yet more evidence that the SAT is a joke. I practiced taking a test, and thus got a lot better at taking a test. I doubt I got any smarter or better prepared for college. This is all to say that I didn't get SAT PREP until the last letter, the "T" in TIA. Man, that woman did a lot of work today. Thank you, TIA.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Mary Lou Guizzo had another puzzle published recently (solo!)—it's yesterday's WSJ puzzle, "Following Orders." Nicer solving experience all around. Delightful.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Perpendicular to ship's midline / TUE 10-20-15 / Ambient musician Brian

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Constructor: Sam Buchbinder

Relative difficulty: No idea (see below)

THEME: ROULETTE — "Note: The circled letters in this puzzle provide a hint to the starts of the answers to the four italicized clues"; those circled letters spell ROULETTE, and the starts of the answers to the four italicized clues are all bets one can make at a ROULETTE table (I think):

Theme answers:
  • BLACK GOLD (17A: Oil, informally)
  • RED SNAPPER (28D: Colorful Gulf Coast fish)
  • EVEN-HANDED (10D: Fair)
  • "ODD, ISN'T IT?" (61A: "Weird, huh?")
Word of the Day: SPIKE (53D: Feature of a punk hairdo) —
Spike is the 12th studio album by the British rock singer and songwriter Elvis Costello, released on compact disc as Warner Brothers 25848. It was his first album for the label. It peaked at No. 5 on the UK album chart. It also reached No. 32 on the Billboard 200 thanks to the single and his most notable American hit, "Veronica," which reached No. 19 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No.1 on the US Modern Rock chart. (wikipedia)
• • •

Well, this was an adventure. For those of us who do the puzzle right when it comes out at 10pm, well ... it didn't. Well, the .puz file wasn't available, and the applet wouldn't work, so I printed out the newspaper facsimile version in PDF form, but that cut off all the numbers of the Acrosses (from 1- to 33-), so solving was ... interesting. At least Sam (the constructor) had a good sense of humor about it all:

So I have no idea how "difficult" it was, as I solved under highly abnormal conditions. Felt maybe possibly slightly tougher than normal, just 'cause of those big open corners in the NE / SW. I can't evaluate this gimmick very well, as I'm not too familiar with ROULETTE. It involves a wheel and spinning and numbers and red and black. I think I described the concept correctly, above. If I missed something, sorry. I assume there is something to the positioning of the theme answers (in a kind of ... wheel ... -ish ... arrangement?). Certainly the arrangement of the letters in ROULETTE has a wheelness about it. Whole thing feels maybe not as spot-on as it should be, but it's reasonably coherent. Fill is pretty average, with MIXTAPE (11D: Personal music compilation) and NICE TRY (45D: "Almost got me!") rising somewhat above the herd (that metaphor feels mixed, but I'm gonna leave it). I am failing the puzzle, though, for one answer alone: TIPI (30A: Home on the range: Var.). I cannot accept that. Under any circumstances. I'd've torn the puzzle back as far as I had to to lose that answers. I'd've burned my puzzle to ground to get rid of that thing. It's an abomination, even among "Var."(iants). [UPDATE: So ... it appears that some time since my childhood the preferred spelling of "TIPI" has changed. At least in some quarters. Wikipedia has it as the primary spelling (with the 3-E and 4-E versions as variants). Yet dictionaries still list it as "Var.," and I've literally never seen this spelling (TIPI) outside of crosswords, and even in crosswords, only irregularly. Not just irregularly—virtually never. FOUR instances, total, in the cruciverb database, and none since 2006. I can't really strongly believe in the "authenticity" of any one spelling, as they are all Anglicizations (right?), and I can't stop thinking of TIPI as junky, as crossword fill goes. But the situation appears to be ... fluid? Debatable? I don't know.]

[We now return to our original write-up, already in progress...]

Also, in what I am taking as a giant middle finger (accepted!), [Homie]'s back. Back again. Oh, BRO. . . My kingdom for BRA / DAME! Sigh.


Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Faerie Queene woman whose name means peace / MON 10-19-15 / TV installation not requiring antenna / Electric Slide Cotton-Eyed Joe / Signature Muhammad Ali ploy / Smallish computer storage unit for short

Monday, October 19, 2015

Constructor: Bruce Venzke and Victor Fleming

Relative difficulty: Medium Monday

THEME: TIES (69A: Binds ... or a hint to the starts of the answers to the six starred clues) —

Theme answers:
  • CABLE OUTLET (17A: *TV installation not requiring an antenna)
  • WIRE FRAUD (24A: *Crime involving a Nigerian prince, maybe)
  • LINE DANCE (50A: *Electric Slide or Cotton-Eyed Joe)
  • STRING BEANS (62A: *Tall, skinny sorts)
  • ROPE-A-DOPE (11D: *Signature Muhammad Ali ploy)
  • CHAIN MAIL (31D: *Protective medieval gear)
Word of the Day: TAYE Diggs (43A: Diggs of "How Stella Got Her Groove Back") —
Scott Leo "Taye" Diggs (born January 2, 1971) is an American actor. He is perhaps best known for his roles in the Broadway musicals Rent and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the film How Stella Got Her Groove Back, the series Private Practice, and the film The Best Man and its sequel The Best Man Holiday. (wikipedia)
• • •

Old Ideas week continues. Today, a classic First Words-type theme with a massive Thud of a revealer. Usually, these days, old theme types are livened up by some revealer that at least gives some interesting, wordplay-type angle to the whole set-up. But this puzzle is livened up only by Density, and there just aren't enough strong longer answers to sustain interest. The two Down themers are probably my favorite, but they are it, as far as interesting fill goes today.  The fill is not great, but I've certainly seen worse. Can't believe you couldn't somehow eliminate the icky IRENA (51D: "The Faerie Queene" woman whose name means "peace"), and OLD BAG is gross and sexist (65A: Hag) (particularly in the hands of male constructors and male editors), but other stuff is solid enough. Just dull. Last week is really highlighting how dull Normal Ideas weeks have become.

I have no idea what a CABLE OUTLET is and do not understand what "Installation" means in the clue, despite having cable TV/Internet, and despite asking my wife if she understood (no, not really—she could guess, but she could not be certain). There is no "outlet" in my house. I mean, the cable comes "out" of a panel in the wall that vaguely resembles an electrical outlet, but I have never heard it called "CABLE OUTLET" and I've certainly never thought of it as an "Installation." That answer and WIRE FRAUD slowed me down a bit today (WIRE FRAUD's clue was just fine—maybe a little more T or W than M, but just fine).

SKYPE was in the Mini today, which was a weird experience. I solve the Mini as a kind of 20-second appetizer before heading into the real puzzle. Probably a good idea to coordinate those two puzzles, to avoid dupes. Also, probably, not that big a deal.

I got nothing else on this one. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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